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In the Proceedings of the 10th Knowledge Acquisition Workshop, Banff, Canada, November 9-14, 1996.

Unification of Language Understanding,
Device Comprehension and Knowledge Acquisition

Ashok Goel

Kavi Mahesh

Justin Peterson

Kurt Eiselt

College of Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332-0280 USA
Contact:, 404-894-4994


Cognitive agents often acquire knowledge of how devices work by reading a book. We describe a computational theory of understanding a natural language description of a device, comprehending how the device works, and acquiring a device model. The theory posits a complex interplay between language, memory, comprehension, problem-solving and learning faculties. Long-term memory contains cases of previously encountered devices and associated structure-behavior-function (SBF) models that explain how the known device works. Language processing is both bottom-up and top-down. Bottom-up processing is done through spreading-activation networks, where the semantics of the nodes and links in the network arises from the SBF ontology. The comprehension process constructs a SBF model for the new device by adapting the known device models - we call this process adaptive modeling. This multi-faculty computational theory is instantiated in an operational computer system called KA that (i) reads and understands English language descriptions of devices from David Macaulay's popular science book The Way Things Work, (ii) comprehends how the described device works, and (iii) acquires a SBF model for the device.

Kavi Mahesh
Mon Sep 30 15:11:01 MDT 1996